Law enforcement officials claim the group has hindered the prosecution of pedophiles they have confronted
Kyle Swanson, 30, spent more than two years working with a group of fellow vigilantes called “KTS Predator Hunters” to lure men into meeting them in public, where they would confront the alleged pedophiles and live-stream their encounters for tens of thousands of followers.
The Washington Post reports that Mr Swanson is now facing a grand jury indictment for unlawful restraint and obstruction of justice. Both are felony charges.
He is also facing charges for misdemeanor assault.
During one of his encounters, Mr Swanson allegedly lured a man into his car, refused to let him leave, and threatened to hit him.
“The Grand Jury’s decision here reflects the fundamental idea that when members of a community decide to take justice into their own hands, even for laudable purposes, they can place themselves and others in danger and damage potential cases,” Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Mr Swanson has taken to his social media accounts to deny any wrongdoing on his part, and complained about law enforcement’s decision to charge him.
“They are protecting the pedophiles over me,” he said in a TikTok video. “I’ve done nothing but try to do good. I try to protect kids, and now they’re screwing me over.”
While Mr Swanson claims he has been a boon for law enforcement’s fight against child predators, Madison County, Illinois’ law enforcement officials apparently have been at odds with his group since their inception.
Tom Gibbons, the former state attorney for Madison County, previously warned Mr Swanson that his group’s actions could easily swing out of control and result in violence, which could have made it difficult for Madison County to charge criminals.
He said he urged the group to stop setting up meetings with suspected pedophiles. The Madison County sheriff also asked Mr Swanson to stop his confrontations, asking them instead to send their tips to law enforcement professionals.
Though Mr Swanson claims his group has been instrumental in hundreds of arrests of pedophiles seeking to rape children, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2019 that many of the cases fell apart because prosecutors did not have enough evidence to secure convictions.
In addition to putting police operations at risk, the group also opened itself up to lawsuits from its targets.
Last year, one of the men confronted by the vigilante group sued them for defamation, claiming the group’s posts about him led him and his family to face endless harassment by Mr Swanson’s followers.
“Defendants maliciously and intentionally caused the publication of the false statements to a Facebook page with thousands of followers for the purpose of harming the Plaintiff’s good reputation,” the lawsuit, which was dismissed in March, claimed.
Mr Swanson also faced criticism from a local school district for luring an alleged pedophile into the school’s parking lot for a meeting without alerting the school system.
The vigilante group takes its inspiration from the NBC show “To Catch a Predator,” in which a team, led by host Chris Hansen, would lure pedophiles into meetings, where Mr Hansen would confront them on their intentions before police arrested the individuals.
The show was popular, but ended in 2007 after a confrontation on the show resulted in a man committing suicide as a film crew and police forced their way into his home.
The man’s family sued NBC, claiming the show “steamrolled” police and pressured the officers into making an arrest without taking proper precautions.
NBC eventually settled the suit in 2008 with an undisclosed payment.